Was gender an issue in Koch's fall?

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 25, 2011 - 7:52 AM

The political fall of Minnesota's first female Senate majority leader opens a gender debate.


Sen. Amy Koch

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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So would Amy Koch's ouster as Senate majority leader have been handled differently if she were a man?

Across the Internet and in the halls at the State Capitol, the question has been asked ever since the Republican senator -- the first female Senate majority leader in Minnesota history -- resigned over allegations that she had an inappropriate relationship with a Senate staff member.

"I think there are some legitimate questions about the way this was handled" by Koch's Senate Republican colleagues, said Kathryn Pearson, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota. "Would it have been handled differently [if] the Senate majority leader were a man?

"We don't know the answer to that, but questions have been raised," she added. "I don't want to say she's a victim, because clearly what she did was wrong."

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said it's easy to jump to conclusions. But most people -- including, he said, himself -- do not yet know the full story regarding Koch. "College professors can opine all they want," he said. "Not having all the details, I can't really tell [you] whether I can compare it, or make it into a gender issue."

Koch's political fall does follow -- albeit by nearly two decades -- the resignation under fire of House Speaker Dee Long, the first woman to hold that position at the State Capitol. Senate majority leader and House speaker are considered the Legislature's two most powerful positions.

Long resigned as House speaker in 1993 after a political scandal known as Phonegate erupted. Long and others did not tell law enforcement authorities that the Minnesota House had been defrauded of nearly $90,000 in long-distance calls. At the time, some of Long's defenders cited a double standard because Long was a woman.

But Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, said there is nothing to suggest Koch was treated differently than a man would have been. "That's ridiculous," he said.

Gazelka said that, after winning a majority in the Minnesota Senate last year for the first time in more than a generation, Republicans not only selected Koch as majority leader but also selected Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, to chair the Senate Taxes Committee, arguably the most influential committee in the Senate.

He also said that when a small group of Senate Republican leaders confronted Koch last week "it was not all male," a nod to the fact that Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, was present.

"I absolutely do not see any of that," Gazelka said of the allegation.

Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, who has criticized how Koch's ouster was handled by Senate Republican leaders, said she is not sure whether things would have been done differently had Koch been a man. "I don't know," she said. "My hope is that we've gone beyond this double standard for gender or anything else."

Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673

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